As a member of the naval reserve, I was required to serve two weeks each year of “ACDUTRA”, the Navy acronym for “Active Duty for Training”. For many, depending on rank or rating, this usually meant sitting for two weeks aboard a destroyer escort in Chicago, or a patrol craft in some other Great Lakes port, such as Cleveland. Available billets for these two-week sessions were posted on the Yeoman’s bulletin board and were considered by most to be merely an annual, somewhat burdensome, obligation.
These activities, to me at least, seemed less of burden than an opportunity; which I took advantage of as often as possible. I viewed them as a chance to travel to new locations, and experience new things. The price for this travel, experience, and possible adventure was merely to work each day aboard ship, or in a class, and put up with a few tedious Navy rules.
The first of these opportunities for which I signed up came in September of 1967. Although it offered little in the way of travel, this episode proved not only to be quite interesting but – in the long run – very useful. I applied to, and was accepted for, the September 1967 class in Instructor Training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
Returning to Great Lakes was kind of interesting, though the circumstances were considerably different from my last assignment to this facility. I now went as a petty officer, and could forgo train travel in favor of my own car. Plus, the course itself turned out to be just plain fun.
I still remember, and utilize, much of what I learned at that school; the broad techniques, as well as the subtleties of presenting material to a class. There were many, but a few that stand out. Do not turn your back to the class, it’s rude and breaks the continuity of your message. Another, don’t use the word “obviously”. You may, and should, know the material well, but if it was obvious to the class, you would not be there explaining it to them.
There were also a lot of rules regarding decorum. The Navy pretty much insisted that their instructors stand at the lectern and present the material without a lot of extraneous, and distracting, motion (or emotion, it would seem). Noting that many of the best instructors I have known, before and since, seemed not to strictly adhere to this robotic methodology, I have come, over the years, to favor of a more dynamic and free-flowing exchange with my own students. That’s just me, but it seems to have worked pretty well.
I was also coached and taught the absolute necessity of overcoming the natural human fear of speaking before a group. I was as bad as anyone at the start, but I adopted the attitude that if I’m speaking to a group about something of which I know, it’s to their advantage to listen. So, with the help of my ego, I overcame this particular phobia surprisingly quickly.
There was one negative event which I encountered at instructor training school. It turned out that I had performed too well on one of my graded “lessons” – as presented to my class and two of the schools instructors.
Around the time I attended the school, I was fascinated by the functionings of the gas turbine engine, which the Navy then employed in large number, in a variety of ways. So I chose the basic operation of a generic gas turbine engine as the subject of my lesson plan.
Each of our presentations were graded on a very strict set of standards. One of them was the time requirement. Each session was to be forty minutes long; no more, and no less. The simple way to achieve this was to first develop a good lesson plan, one which when presented would fall just short of the time requirement. And to then to rely on your fellow students to ask an appropriate number of questions to fill the remaining few minutes.
Having overcome my discomfort at speaking in front of the group, and knowing my subject well, my presentation went pretty much as planned. I finished in just over thirty-five minutes, and with those last few minutes to go launched into the Q&A session. And the response was – silence. The remaining minutes of the session ticked away very slowly, as my otherwise good performance, was graded a failure.
Frustrated and very angry at my failing mark, I confronted my friends in the class and was told that I had presented the material so well that no one could think of a legitimate question. Pleasing to hear, but maddening in its relationship to my grade. This experience led me to yet another of life’s rules – Do your own work well, and you won’t need to rely on others to bail you out.